Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: "Chamber of Secrets" from Ginny's point of view. The Weasleys in Egypt, summer of 1993.
Author's Note: And that's it, I'm done. It took me eleven years and change, but I damn well got there in the end. Promise made, promise kept.
Thanks to nnozomi and OldFashionedGirl for cleaning up this chapter, and lady_songsmith, animus_wyrmis, and via_ostiense for their invaluable Latin advice! Any remaining canon goofs, grammar mistakes, continuity errors, bad dialogue, implausible characterizations, boring passages, and Americanisms are my fault, not theirs.
Epilogue: Isis Alone
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Ginny glanced up from her seat in Bill's cramped office, where she'd been paging idly through one of his books on curse-breaking while waiting for the Daily Prophet photographer to show up. The rest of their family were taking the two-Knut tour of Gringotts' Alexandrian branch - it sounded cool, with lots of tunnels and curses and guardian beasts - but Mum had already made her stay out of one tomb yesterday and if she just begged off, it was easier to pretend that Mum still didn't think of her as fragile and helpless.
Besides, Bill had a really comfortable chair.
"Talk about what?" she asked.
Bill shrugged and ambled into his office, leaving the doorway clear for Charlie to lounge against the stone frame. "Anything, really. Obviously we'd like to hear your version of what happened, and that you're getting better, but it's not like me and Charlie haven't had our own piles of shit to climb out of - some of them our own fault, too - so we know sometimes the last thing you want to do is dredge everything up again. We just wanted to say that if you do want to talk, we'll listen."
"We can't promise we won't get upset," added Charlie. He pulled one hand from his jacket pocket and gestured abstractly. "You're our baby sister, of course we want you to be safe and happy. But we won't smother you."
"Mum does enough of that for all of us," Bill agreed, tapping his fang earring with a wry smile. "So. Do you want to talk about it?"
Ginny looked down at the curse-breaking book, tracing a finger along the lines and knots of a carefully illustrated runic diagram. She thought she'd been doing a better job of acting like she was completely over Tom and the basilisk and the Chamber. Of course, Bill and Charlie hadn't seen her since last summer, so any changes probably jumped out at them. Or maybe it was just harder to act normal without the Burrow and its routines to remind her what normal had been.
She didn't want her family to worry. But if Bill and Charlie were already worried, would pretending actually fix anything? And she had felt better after she shouted at Xanthe that one time...
"Maybe I should," she said.
"Only if you want to. Don't push too hard. Pain's how the world tells you to slow down and stop being a bloody nitwit, so if you get too uncomfortable..." said Charlie, but he moved into the tiny office as well and closed the door behind himself. "D'you want me to put up a silencing charm?"
"Don't bother, there's one built in. Goblins take privacy rights dead seriously, and some curses affect anyone who hears the words, so it's a safety requirement. I'll just lock the door," said Bill. He aimed his wand at the door and muttered an incantation under his breath. The knob sparked red and the air in the office turned muffled and thick as if a giant pair of earmuffs had wrapped around the room. After a moment, the sensation cleared.
"Voila!" Bill swept his arms out, fingertips brushing the stone wall on one side and his bookcase on the other. "Have no fear, Ginevra Weasley! Your secrets are safe with us - nobody will overhear and we promise not to tell Mum or Dad unless you say otherwise."
Ginny bit her lip and kept tracing the runic diagram. Paper and ink slid smooth under her finger, picking up faint wisps of heat from friction and the temperature of her skin. "I have been getting better. Honestly. I've been trying to sort things out and I think getting away from Hogwarts helped. But it's been weird these past few days - since we got to Egypt."
"Oh?" said Charlie.
"It's not home. I think anywhere different would feel weird. But it's especially weird to be in Egypt," Ginny explained. "Riddle talked about Egypt a couple times. About curses, even. He said they were... I don't remember exactly, marvelous and subtle? He told me an old story about Isis he'd read somewhere. That was at Christmas. He said it could be my present, since he couldn't give me anything solid."
"Not a bad idea for a gift - cheap and personalized," said Charlie. "I should remember that."
Ginny nodded, still not looking up. "That's the thing, see? He was- Riddle was-" She choked on the words, unwilling to keep up even that last lie. She was going to tell the truth. No more lies. Not here, not now.
"No," she said, and then again, stronger, "No, that's wrong. I didn't call him Riddle. I've been trying to when I talk about him, but it's a lie. I called him Tom, because he was my friend. He was good at being my friend. He listened to me. He gave me advice - I figured out later that a lot of it was- was twisted, just a bit, to keep me depending on him, but a lot of it was right, too. He told me stories and jokes. He laughed when I needed him to. He used to teach me bits of advanced magic - like you did, both of you, before you left home."
She tilted her hand, tracing with the very tip of her finger instead of the flat pad. "He reminded me of you, a little. I even told him that, said that I thought of him as a brother, that he didn't have to feel alone. I trusted him. And all along, he was lying. Everything he did, even the good parts, was just for show until he could kill me."
"He needed a life to get out of the diary. I would've given him half of mine for free, if he'd just asked. But he never even tried. He never cared at all. And I just- I can't-" She paused, drew a ragged breath. "He was my best friend, and he only ever saw me as a tool. And then Dumbledore said Tom grew up to be... to be You-Know-Who, and I can't make it make sense. Tom was horrible, but he was still a person. How does a person turn into a monster? How does a person stop seeing people as people? When did he go wrong? Was there anything I could've done to make him see me and turn around, and maybe even-"
The runic diagram sparked under her finger. Ginny yanked her hand back and slammed the book shut. Wand, wand, oh toad guts, where was her wand?
Bill grabbed the book off the desk before Ginny had even blinked, flipping open to where sparks still skittered around the diagram like multicolored lightning. "Finite, quiesce, dormi," he muttered, running the flat of his palm down the page. A curl of white smoke rose from the paper as the sparks died.
"That was different," said Charlie, lowering his wand and leaning back against the door frame. "I thought only curses activated spontaneously."
Bill shrugged as he set the book down and dusted his hand on his trousers. "Depends on the layout of the runes - some containment traps can go off if you think at them too loudly. It's not usually a problem because most people don't expect ink on a page to do much besides sit there. Curses and traps have a lot to do with intent."
"I keep expecting books to write back to me," Ginny admitted, prodding gingerly at the singed page with her fingernail. "And talking about Tom..."
"The tracing did most of it," said Bill. "But yeah, if you expect runes to be active, you're a lot more likely to feed magic into them subconsciously. Mum says that the memory construct in the diary forced an open link with you for months on end, so you're used to shaping your own magic into that pattern when you read or write."
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," Ginny muttered.
Bill reached across his desk and ruffled her hair. "Hey now, none of that. I can't activate runes without using the right incantation and I do this stuff for a living."
"Why not think of it as a party trick?" Charlie suggested. "Or another bit of advanced magic that the construct-"
"Tom," Ginny insisted as she finger-combed her hair back into order. "He was a person and his name was Tom."
"-that that lying bastard taught you," Charlie corrected.
Ginny scowled. "That's not any better!"
Charlie scowled right back. "Maybe your Tom was a person, but that doesn't win him any points with me. You can call him whatever you want, but he came damn close to killing you and I'm not going to pretend he didn't. That's going too far!"
Bill cleared his throat pointedly. Charlie closed his mouth abruptly with a click of teeth. Then he took a deep breath and raked his hands through his hair. "I'm angry at him, Ginny, not at you. I guess we've all got a bit of Mum's temper when you get down to it, though. Sorry for shouting."
Ginny shrugged. "It's all right."
Charlie sighed. "It isn't really, but thanks. Erm. The point I was trying to make is that Riddle was your friend under false pretenses, but like you said, he had to act like a real friend in order to make that lie convincing. Why not take the useful things he taught you and make them your own? You won, he lost - it's all spoils of war, more or less."
"Maybe," Ginny said.
"It's your choice. We won't push," Bill promised. He sat sideways on his desk, left leg braced against the floor and right ankle crossed over his left knee. "I'd rather not talk about runes and curses anyway - I do enough of that for my job. What I want to know is which legend that arsehole told you. I'm the one who's meant to have a monopoly on telling creepy mummy stories to my titchy ickle siblings. I cry foul!"
"It wasn't a creepy story," Ginny said, gratefully seizing the change of topic. "It was about, er, Isis and Osiris and how she brought him back from the dead after his brother killed him, twice. Only the second time the spell only worked halfway because she couldn't find all the pieces - the brother, er, Set? Yeah, Set - he'd cut Osiris up and tossed all the bits into the Nile. So Osiris ended up king of the dead, but I think it turned out all right anyhow. Erm." She bit her lip, searching for the cadence of Tom's words. "Yeah, Isis had a kid, and when he grew up he killed Set. I think Isis helped. Then she became the goddess of something or other, the end."
Charlie snorted. "Not a creepy story, she says. Because people cut into pieces and coming back from the dead isn't creepy at all. Right."
"Especially when told by a magical construct that wants to drink your soul to bring himself to life," Bill added.
Ginny threw herself backward in Bill's chair, arms folded defensively across her chest. "Okay, when you put it that way, it sounds awful. But that doesn't mean the story is creepy, just that Tom was being a toad-licking slimebucket. Isis is still awesome. She saved her husband and her son, she did all kinds of cool magic, and she beat the villain. Twice."
"Fair point. Isis kicked arse. Did you know she's the patron goddess of magic, and specifically of binding and unbinding spells?" said Bill. "Her priests used to work with string and knots, but that got turned into diagrams at some point and we still use a bunch of those spells in curse-breaking today. So yeah, awesome." He grinned. "Sounds a bit like someone I know, come to think of it."
"Yeah, yeah, Mum could boss around moldy old gods any day," Ginny grumbled.
Bill ruffled her hair again, despite her attempt to duck and bat his hands away. "I didn't mean Mum, Gingersnap. I meant you."
Bill flicked his finger against Ginny's ear, interrupting her protest. "Seriously, quit that. Sure you could've done some things better - like asking for help, there's no way our idiot brothers wouldn't have pitched in - but you fought that bastard for months and you came damn close to beating him. There is no way that doesn't count as awesome. And before that, you were trying to help a friend - also awesome. Don't beat yourself up over what you did wrong. We all screw up-"
"-don't we ever-" said Charlie.
"-yeah, me and Charlie could tell you stories for days about all our fuckups," Bill agreed. "The point is to learn from your mistakes, not dwell on them forever. Then the next time you get into a mess, you can make exciting new mistakes instead of repeating the old ones forever!"
He threw up his arms in a cheesy victory pose.
Charlie snickered. After a second, Ginny joined him. Bill tipped an imaginary hat to each of them in turn.
"So what d'you say? Feel any better? Or would you rather we back off and let time do its thing?" asked Charlie.
Ginny bit her lip, considering. "Maybe a little better." It was good to talk about Tom being her friend as well as her enemy, and how that kept tangling her thoughts. But people saying she'd done a good job didn't magically make that true. "I still think that if Harry had found the diary-"
"He did, though - don't you remember?" said Charlie. "Mum said that Harry said he found it after you tried to destroy Riddle the first time, and Riddle fooled him exactly like he fooled you. Yeah, he didn't keep writing in it, but that's only because his friends distracted him. I bet if you hadn't stolen the diary back, Riddle would've got his claws into Harry sooner or later."
Ginny shook her head. "But Ron and Hermione-"
"Exactly," said Bill. "That's the only difference, see? You were alone. Harry wasn't. That's all. Even without anyone to notice you were in trouble - speaking of which I, for one, am seriously pissed off at our little brothers for falling down on their job - you still figured out Riddle was evil and kept fighting. Like I said, awesome."
Ginny grimaced. But she hadn't been alone. Everything she'd done alone, she'd screwed up. The only parts that had gone right were because of other people's help - Xanthe had given her the key to figure out Tom was a liar, and Professor Sprout had given her the pass into the Restricted Section. All she'd done on her own was get possessed, over and over.
She said as much, awkwardly.
Bill listened solemnly, then asked: "Do you know how hard it is to resist possession?"
Ginny shrugged. "It's got to be easy if you can recognize a shady enchanted object, right?"
"Dad's been on your case about checking where they keep their brains, has he?" said Charlie. "I think he forgets we don't work with illegally enchanted objects all day. Ron didn't spot that the diary was hiding its brain, did he? Neither did Hermione, and Ron says she's mad about research and extra reading."
"And wizards can work possessions directly, without physical constructs. The point is, once some bastard has his hooks in your mind, it's damn near impossible to undo the link, and only a tiny bit less impossible to block it," said Bill. "Occlumency's advanced and restricted for a reason. Most people don't have the focus for it. You had help finding the right books, but you're the one who made the magic work."
"Also, Harry may be the one who killed Riddle and the basilisk, but the way I heard the story, he would've died if Fawkes and the Sorting Hat hadn't pitched in," Charlie added. "Lone heroes are dramatic, but they're for kiddie stories, not real life. For example, I work with dragons all day, right? Would you say I'm brave?"
"Yes," said Ginny.
"We never approach a dragon alone. We work in pairs at the minimum. Groups of four is better. Does that make me any less brave?"
"There you are, then," Charlie said with satisfaction. "If I'm brave and Harry was brave, then you were brave too. Also rash and inexperienced, but those are fixable. Look, pretend you went up against a rogue dragon on your own. Yeah, you got scorched pretty bad and the house you were trying to protect burned down, but you got the family out safe and next time you'll remember to call for backup before you rush in. Got it?"
"Or pretend you got lured into a newly discovered tomb and hit with a Confundus Charm so you didn't remember you had a team waiting back at camp to help you and tried to chase the thieves on your own for hours until someone realized you were missing," Bill suggested. "That happened to me my first year on the job. Like I said, we all screw up." He grabbed a paperclip from his desk and tossed it at Charlie. "I bet you ten Knuts Charlie picked his example from real life too."
Charlie grinned, a bit sheepishly. "You caught me. Basescu chewed me out up one side and down the other, docked my pay for a fortnight, and set me on dung-collecting duty for a month. Then she clapped me on the back and said, 'We all start out young, stupid, and crazy. The trick is learning to be clever and living to be old. I'm afraid crazy is incurable.'"
"Clutchgear swore in Gobbledegook instead of Romanian and I got artifact cataloguing duty instead of dragon shit, but it boiled down to about the same," said Bill. "Now we've moved on to new and improved mistakes! You see? You screwed up, sure. You made some bad choices in a tight spot and wish you'd done things differently. That doesn't make you a coward or a failure. It just makes you human. We've all been there, one way or another."
Ginny tried to picture her two oldest brothers screwing up that dramatically. She couldn't see it. They'd always been bigger and stronger, always been able to answer all her questions. They'd known exactly what they wanted to do with their lives, and then gone out and made those things happen. They'd stood up to Mum and Dad and done things their own ways. She hadn't ever thought they could make real mistakes, not ones that counted.
Except apparently they had. And it hadn't been the end of the world, either.
"I definitely won't make the same mistakes again," she said. "I'll be more careful which people and stories I trust, and next time I get in trouble, I'll make sure to find help. But I still think I should've done better this time."
Bill shrugged. "One step at a time. Just promise us you'll think about it, okay?"
"I will," said Ginny.
"Great," said Charlie. He glanced down at his watch. "Hey, Bill, how good are the silencing charms on this room? I think the photographer was supposed to meet us ten minutes ago - is there a chance Mum's standing outside the door getting ready to explode?"
Bill winced. "Ah. Maybe? There's an internal bank communication system, but none of you have clearance to use it, so..."
Bill and Charlie stared at each other, then at the door, then back at each other as if silently arguing over who should sacrifice himself to Mum's potential fury. Ginny sighed. Then she strode across the tiny office and nudged Charlie out of the way.
"I take it back, neither of you is brave at all," she said. "Unlock the door. If Mum's there, I'll deal with her - she's still trying not to upset me."
"Our knight in shining armor!" said Bill. He pointed his wand at the doorknob, muttering something in Gobbledegook until it sparked blue. "Get her around the corner and we'll sneak out the other direction and round up the rest of the family in case you need a rescue."
"Who says we won't have to rescue them first? Ten Knuts says the twins tried to steal from one of the vaults and Dad pissed off the goblins trying to make them explain how they integrate Muggle technology into their craftwork," said Charlie.
"Another ten says Ron lost his mangy old rat down in the tunnels," Bill shot back. "What do he and Percy see in that creature anyway? It can't carry letters like an owl and it's not useful for spell enhancement like a cat. All it does is sleep and squeak."
"Hey now, rats are very intelligent animals-" Charlie began, taking up the well-worn argument with cheerful verve.
Ginny tuned her brothers' bickering out with the ease of long practice. She knew perfectly well they were exaggerating their fear of Mum and dragging out old family jokes to distract her. That didn't mean she couldn't appreciate the effort. Even if she didn't agree that she'd done the best she could with Tom and the basilisk, she could be glad her brothers believed in her. She could do her best to live up to the person they thought she could become. A princess didn't need to wait for a knight to save her from a dragon or a tower; she could meet her rescuers halfway. She could be her own knight, her own hero. She could be Isis and save others in turn.
"Next time, I'll get it right," Ginny whispered to herself.
She opened the door.
AN: Thank you for reading, and please review! I appreciate all feedback, but I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.